So, this is it. Long have I missed out on BioWare games, particularly on the Mass Effect series despite having a very brief encounter with the second in the original trilogy. I even ignored the Dragon Age series, despite the fact that I had lived with a friend who owned the original game. Now, this alarming oversight has been rectified, and hoo-boy did I choose a doozy to start out on.
As space operas go, Mass Effect: Andromeda starts you off with the very major, very important point that this time around you are the alien, in a completely new galaxy, and about 600+ years in the Milky Way’s future – meaning, I believe, that all that has happened in the previous Mass Effect trilogy has been done and dusted. Which is great because it means that the game opens itself up to first time players like myself without being too ingrained into the previous entries – though of course, for moments where there are references to the original trilogy, there is the very helpful codex to fill in the gaps so that you’re up to speed. Thankfully references are few and far between and in-game dialogue does offer explanations wherever they’re needed.
Now, I know there are some people who will just dash into the action and not bother with customisation of their character Ryder (who can be either a Scott or a Sara at your own discretion), but I can tell you this… the general joke that you could be in character creation for anything between half and hour to two hours is very much the reality here thanks to that one gift/curse of the RPG gamer: sliders. You can make your Ryder as pretty or as bloody monstrous as you like to hilarious effect. But you will eventually realise that you actually want to play a game and just start with whatever you’ve ended up (my version of Ryder looks pretty from the front… but oh god the profile is bad and the eyes are so wide and what was I thinking about purple eyeshadow?!)
Though, I wonder if by making it possible to craft your own version of Ryder, some of the graphic quality of the game had gone out of the window. Let’s just say that while I can forgive the rigidity of faces during dialogue scenes particularly in a custom Ryder’s case, the fact that I’ve seen characters in T-poses, half a minute lags between gameplay and cutscene or even just between fast travels, some dodgy textures and the fact that I actually went through a wall and nearly fell into an abyss of empty space during a firefight… well, its not looking good. Luckily, the glitches thus far haven’t been game breaking; just technical and graphical niggles in what should have been flagged up during quality checks.
What makes up for these glitches is that there is a wealth of things to do in the Heleus cluster. While of course there are the main missions (also known as priority missions), there are loads of little tasks and side missions to do, from tracking down colonist corpses on the desert planet of Eos to tracking down the different arks that had colonists from the other Milky Way species. Not to mention that you have relationships to develop with your crew when you aren’t developing diplomatic relations with the colony administrators on the Nexus space station and the native Angara. There’s also mining, crafting, exploration… seriously, you’re never wanting of anything to do. If anything, you’re often bombarded with all sorts of tasks and requests.
One of the major tasks you’re given as the Pathfinder -basically you’re the Sacagawea to the Initiative’s Lewis and Clark- is to be the one to set foot on the new worlds first and make them habitable, somehow, some way, for colonists to settle on them. Luckily each explorable world is unique, each exhibiting its own challenges; on Eos, severe radiation on the planet surface makes it inadvisable to leave sheltered areas for too long while on the ice planet Voeld, you have the problem of dealing with extreme cold conditions – unless you’re Angaran, as the Andromedan local on your squad will mention. However, with only five worlds explorable that you can make habitable, and one habitable planet pretty much considered a no go for diplomatic reasons, and another just no longer considered viable for habitation, you do spend a vast majority of your space exploration just cruising along in your ship, scanning each planet or asteroid you come across in every system you visit. Exploration with boots on the ground is definitely the more enjoyable aspect to being the Pathfinder than exploring with your ship, especially since exploration with the Tempest is a miasma of CGI cutscenes that are (probably) hiding awkward load times between systems. And yet, somehow, the fact that there is this mass of jumping from one system to the other in the space of five real time seconds means that you do get to appreciate the majesty of the Andromeda galaxy. It also encourages you to take your time with things, rather than rush to get everything done in one fell swoop.
As for combat situations… as you are aware, shooters aren’t really my thing. I find firefights something of a stressful situation, particularly when you’re running around trying to avoid getting shot while finding a safe place… more often than not a corner for me. The same is happening here; if I can actively avoid getting in unnecessary shoot outs than I will, however it is rather telling that my teammates are often the ones getting the kills rather than me when we are engaged in a fight. Though then again, thanks to the fact that I chose to be an Infiltrator from the start, that meant I started out with the Tactical Cloak ability. There is nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction when you turn invisible, stroll up to a Chosen Kett enemy and then smash him in the face with the melee button.
Then again, if the needs of the situation mean that I can’t really be the invisible killer on the field anymore, you do have the option mid-fight to change your class to fit the status. Though, if you plan your attack strategy carefully and monitor your team’s growth, you’ll probably find that you won’t need to change that much; I certainly didn’t. There is nothing that a good team set up can’t fix, particularly if that team includes either a) an angry, bloodthirsty krogan, b) someone who can use biotics to devastating effect or c) someone who can be your meat shield comfortably and still manage to get a few grenades in there.
However, the one thing that makes me keep coming back to Mass Effect: Andromeda and spending hours on it is not the main story. It’s the little stories. The little snippets into everyone’s lives and struggles. I’ve ended up bonding with the team with my Ryder, simultaneously moulding her into a well-rounded character as well thanks to the system of choosing tonal responses on a radial window when the option is there. With it, you choose to answer with your heart, with your head, casually or professionally.
My Ryder mostly answers with her heart, because in my mind even though she’s had to go through the emotional grinder and make tough decisions, she still manages to have hope for the future and have both sympathy and empathy for others. Basically, she puts everyone else’s needs before her own (though of course, she still manages to be able to joke around with the others and be professional in front of her superiors or when it really counts, such as making first contact). This is just my Ryder though; what’s amazing is that every player has a different response to any given situation, and that Ryder’s personality and everyone’s attitude towards them reflects the decisions a player makes. That means that somewhere in the world there’s a Ryder who’s a total jerk, but there’s another Ryder who is a pragmatic, and there’s another Ryder out in the world who has a tendency to act impulsively while another steps back to assess the position they’re in. There’s something rather beautiful knowing that the character of Ryder, rather than either being in the Paragon camp or the Renegade camp of the previous Mass Effect entries, can go so much more deeper.
Which is probably why you should play Mass Effect: Andromeda. Even though the script is not the best example of writing, being able to mould your Ryder character and enjoy the experience of a new galaxy to explore just opens up a Pandora’s Box of opportunities that you can bet on being covered in further instalments. There’s a whole galaxy out there to explore after all, waiting to be discovered, as well as more Milky Way denizens to follow the other arks. Just try to forgive it for its tendency to glitch, it’ll be worth it.